The Tree of Life: Stories of Civil War

Mario Bencastro, Author, Susan Giersbach Rascon, Translator, Susan Giersbach Rascon, Translator Arte Publico Press $11.95 (112p) ISBN 978-1-55885-186-3
These 15 stories deal with people of El Salvador striving to lead ordinary lives amidst the brutality of the 13-year (1979-1992) civil war that rages around them. The pervasive violence is set against a backdrop of mysticism and faith, as those who are oppressed try to retain a sense of meaning while experiencing or witnessing horrific cruelty. ""Photographer of Death'' concerns a mild-mannered employee of the completely ineffectual Human Rights Commission whose job it is to photograph each day's victims. He describes gruesomely tortured and deformed bodies, circling vultures, packs of stray dogs digging up corpses. Then he becomes one of the disappeared. Each short narrative recounts brutalities inflicted at random and manifold injustices, yet each is related with calm clarity and no trace of melodrama. The novella ""Once Upon a River"" is a heartwrenching tale of teenagers whose love can't surmount the carnage. In the best of these stories, the matter-of-fact recital of unspeakable horrors is punctuated by vivid imagery. Yet the prose throughout is somewhat stiff and the dialogue stilted; it is difficult to tell whether this is due to the translation or to the author's deliberate attempt to underplay the grim nature of his material. In some tales, however, Bencastro emphasizes the ongoing quality of life, the ways nature renews the landscape and men and women rediscover hope. (May)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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FORMATS
Paperback - 112 pages - 978-1-55885-214-3
Hardcover - 112 pages - 978-1-61192-314-8
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